Happy Friday, everyone! The day started out sunny around here but suddenly turned into torrential thunderstorms in the afternoon.
Speaking of storms, there’s a big scandal going on in the book community right now. That means, at the very least, you can count on an epic and well-written battle. The Urbana Free Library, which is a public library in Urbana, Illinois–near, but not associated with UIUC, is under massive scrutiny for their “purge” this week of thousands of nonfiction books. The criteria for purging? Anything over ten years old. As you can imagine, this lit a beacon in the minds of book fans, having been warned of such dystopian behavior in Farenheit 451 and Libyrinth.
The best articles I’ve found on the overall coverage of the event are by the News-Gazette and Book Riot (@BookRiot on Twitter). Smilepolitely.com has a good article on the library staff’s responses to the event.
The News-Gazette, East Central Illinois’s newspaper–and a direct competitor the UIUC newspaper I used to write for (sorry Daily Illini…I love you both…): Urbana Free Library patrons express concern over size and speed of book culling”
BookRiot, a book news source: “Bookgate: When Urbana Free Library Purged Thousands of Books”
Smilepolitely, Champaign-Urbana’s online magazine: “Miscommunication, or Mismanagement?”
In fact, the scandal has spawned a catchy hashtag for the event–and it’s trending right now in the Twittersphere: #bookgate. I suppose it makes sense that the most prolific Twitter writers would also be book fans. But it’s not just an online sensation; emergency city council meetings were held, too.
“Weeding” is a natural, necessary task–in nature and in the library. It may hurt our hearts to pull out bright dandelions (they’re flowers, too!) or irrelevant books (How to Clean Your Typewriter in Just Ten Hours), but the truth is, without maintenance, those extraneous items can choke out your lawn–or your library. New books will always be written, and space is finite–so what do you do with outdated or irrelevant materials?
One option is reselling. As a bibliophile, I enjoy visiting different bookstores and libraries. I appreciate when they try to sell old copies of books, movies, and CDs that they need to get rid of–either because they have too many copies or because people are no longer interested in the content. I usually try to visit whenever I hear my local ones are having a sale going; I have found treasures for under $1! Sometimes, I discover things I never would have found otherwise; the shelves are expansive, and I might not even have thought to look at a certain topic. In particular, I have found reference books to be a gem. OK, so a musical history book might only go till 1950–which might not be popular, but it just so happens that my interest in pop music pretty much stops at around that time period. 😉 I love filling my imaginary bookshelves of my dream library with quirky and unusual books. Lots of books, period.
The problem for Urbana Free Library was more in the way they culled than the act of culling itself–and protesters have said as much. In my opinion, a ten-year-old book would be irrelevant if it is proven incorrect by more current research/data, but I think those types of materials are more often found in specialized university science collections, not public libraries. Biographies, typographical studies, ancient histories, and so many other topics would rarely be updated–and even if they were, someone else might still find use for the content in the older books.
What troubles me is I can’t find any information about what happened to these thousands of books except that they were “sent away”–to an incinerator? To a dump? How often is this happening, and at how many libraries? So many areas in the world could use these materials, if only to learn how to read, so I sure hope they weren’t discarded outright. I know I will be following #bookgate to see what comes of the scandal. I read that there is a possibility some boxes are still around; let’s hope so. At this time, the library director is still denying culpability and avoiding questions; the public is crying out for her replacement. On a personal level, I’m sad this has happened, because I really loved this library.
Like we learned in Farenheit 451, books are a reflection of life, culture, and humanity when they are written–and I think that goes doubly so for nonfiction. Hopefully, #bookgate has caught enough attention to be a real-life example of why this shouldn’t ever happen again.